Richmond Kickers have lost two of their past three matches and are 3-6-1 in USL play this year, but they have grinded out results in the U.S. Open Cup and earned a fourth-round matchup against Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium Tuesday evening.
Richmond Head Coach Leigh Cowlishaw, now in his 18th season, sets his team up to protect the box and counter, so when the transitions are fluid they can hit hard and fast. “When they’re good, they’re good in transition,’ Bethlehem Steel head coach Brendan Burke said of the Kickers. “They don’t really spray the ball around. They try to get at you quickly, and then they’re on top of you and establish some possession.”
Burke’s Steel are 2-0-0 against the Kickers this season, topping them 4-1 and 3-1. Those results point to a common theme throughout Richmond’s matches this year: They nearly always find a way to score, and have not been shut out in their past ten matches.
Richmond’s attacking moves can come up the wings or by using big striker Heviel Cordoves’ hold up play. Cordoves will try to impose his will on the Union back line, so it will be interesting to see what kind of team Jim Curtin sends out on Tuesday. Matthew Real will likely get minutes on the outside, and the Union will have Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro medically cleared and available for selection.
The Kickers use defensively solid, hard-working outside players to provide service in the final third. Raul Gonzalez, in his second year out of the University of Memphis, has shown well this season. “He’s a good young player,” Burke said of Gonzalez. “Industrious and fast enough to cause trouble. They use guys like him to get out and establish possession and whip balls into the box.”
Burke also pointed to Yudai Imura and Brian Shriver as attackers that can cause problems if they find the ball around the final third. “Imura is really important to the way they play. Any time he gets space in your half of the field, he’s clever, he’s got a good first touch, and he can score goals.”
Shriver can “start on the left to come inside or on the right, and he goes and can go and play as a second forward,” Burke continued.
To prevent the visitors from breaking out at speed, Philly will need to disrupt their first ball out of the back in transition by applying pressure and taking up intelligent positions in the central third of the pitch. This can be paired with overloads in wide areas to pin back Richmond’s wide players and attempt to pull defenders out of the center where they can spread the ball to start counterattacks. Many of the Union’s young wingers have spent time with Bethlehem this season and may have the measure of the Kickers’ players, so it’s possible someone like Fabian Herbers could play a role against a team he faced just under a month ago.
Derrick Jones and Adam Najem also played a role in the Steel’s May 6 win over Richmond, and they will hope that helps them secure starting nods on Tuesday. However Union head coach Jim Curtin told the media on Monday afternoon that the ejections in Atlanta could lead to changes in how the club sets up on Tuesday given that Toronto FC looms on Friday in a big, home league match.
No matter how they set up, it is certain that the Union will not look past Richmond. “I certainly take this competition seriously,” Jim Curtin told the media Monday. “As a club, we take it seriously. I still think there’s only two trophies in this country, so you should put maximum effort into winning them.”
The Union face Richmond at 7pm ET on Tuesday, June 5 at Talen Energy Stadium. The match will be streamed live on PhiladelphiaUnion.com.